Scientific Reports (Aug 2021)

C. elegans-based chemosensation strategy for the early detection of cancer metabolites in urine samples

  • Enrico Lanza,
  • Martina Di Rocco,
  • Silvia Schwartz,
  • Davide Caprini,
  • Edoardo Milanetti,
  • Giuseppe Ferrarese,
  • Maria Teresa Lonardo,
  • Luca Pannone,
  • Giancarlo Ruocco,
  • Simone Martinelli,
  • Viola Folli

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 1
pp. 1 – 16


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Abstract Chemosensory receptors play a crucial role in distinguishing the wide range of volatile/soluble molecules by binding them with high accuracy. Chemosensation is the main sensory modality in organisms lacking long-range sensory mechanisms like vision/hearing. Despite its low number of sensory neurons, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans possesses several chemosensory receptors, allowing it to detect about as many odorants as mammals. Here, we show that C. elegans displays attraction towards urine samples of women with breast cancer, avoiding control ones. Behavioral assays on animals lacking AWC sensory neurons demonstrate the relevance of these neurons in sensing cancer odorants: calcium imaging on AWC increases the accuracy of the discrimination (97.22%). Also, chemotaxis assays on animals lacking GPCRs expressed in AWC allow to identify receptors involved in binding cancer metabolites, suggesting that an alteration of a few metabolites is sufficient for the cancer discriminating behavior of C. elegans, which may help identify a fundamental fingerprint of breast cancer.